New: Downtown Berkeley Takes Back Its Streets

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday August 07, 2013 - 03:53:00 PM

Don't call it a downtown miracle or transformation. Those terms are online cliches.

Besides, a miracle is inexplicable. This miracle/transformation has explanations.

Last year downtown was facing a crisis of anarchy as homeless youth and other hardcore street squatters trashed Berkeley's commons.

The Planet published scores of photos depicting the ragtag congestion downtown.

But when Berkeley's National Night Out held its second annual downtown Ice Cream Social near the downtown BART entrance, you might have been in Kansas. (Except for the exhibition of 120 photos of Tibetans, who immolated themselves since 2009 to protest Chinese persecution). 

Because we aren't in Kansas, the ice cream was Gelato from nearby Almare. Berkeley downtown ambassadors kicked in with sugar cookies. 

Brrrr weather limited the turnout compared to last year. Besides, the neighbors downtown have been cleared out. 

Some will mourn the loss of a Berkeley trope—street kids enjoying the right to assemble. 

But Jesse Arreguin, councilmember downtown, doesn't see it that way. The kids needed to be reined in, he told me. 

Lance Gorée, Downtown Berkeley Associationproject manager, told me the changed scene was the result of "combined efforts" of the Downtown Business Association, Berkeley Police, and downtown Ambassadors. 

Some of the troublemakers seem to have disappeared, others have changed--like Ninja Kitty, who fired up council debate over a [failed] no-sitting ballot measure by threatening to organize street kids. 

Gorée told me that Kitty (Michael) is now attending college. I see him on the Avenue, where he looks almost like a student. 

According to Berkeleyside's Emilie Raguso, "...community members from nearly 50 groups around town signed up to take back the streets in the city’s annual National Night Out celebration." 

According to Raguso, the local event—the latest "take a bite out of crime"—-takes place on the first Tuesday in August each year, spearheaded by the Berkeley Police Department, the Berkeley Fire Department and other city staff. It’s a way to get residents and businesses together to show [anti-crime] unity out in the community….” 

Berkeley Police Chief, Michael K. Meehan, Captain Andy Greenwood, Michael Caplan, Berkeley Economic Development Manager, John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, Arreguin and Gorée were on hand. The chief and his captain were off to see other neighborhoods take back their own streets. 

Downtown streets have already been taken back. At least for now. 



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